Godwin, Morris, Laurenzi & Bloomfield, P.C.

Don't Miss the Boat: Basics of Maritime Personal Injury Law - Blog Series - The Jones Act (Negligence)

Recently, attorney Lee J. Bloomfield, presented a seminar entitled: "Don't Miss the Boat: Basics of Maritime Personal Injury Law in 45 Minutes"

From the seminar papers, we are producing a blog series. This the 3rd post, in this blog series.  The topics discussed, for The Jone's Act, will be Negligence Under the Jones Act.

Negligence Under the Jones Act

The Jones Act was intended to expand protections for seaman, and usually disallows the application of common law rules which would affect seaman harshly. Rannals v. Diamond Jo, 265 Fd.3d 442, 448 (6th Cir. 2001). The Jones Act is liberally construed in order to Casino accomplish its beneficent purposes. Id. A Jones Act employer is generally stripped of its common-law defenses. Id.

 

A plaintiff in a Jones Act claim must prove negligence in order to recover. Perkins v Am., 246 F.3d 593, 598 (6th Cir. 2001). The "ordinary prudence" Elec. Power Fuel Supply, Inc., 246 F.3d 593, 598 (6th Cir. 2001). The "ordinary prudence" standard is used to determine an employer's negligence. Once negligence is established, however, the plaintiff must only show that the employer's negligence is the cause, in whole or in part, of the injuries. In lawsuits brought under the Jones Act, it is sufficient that the employer's negligence played a part, no matter how slight, in producing the subject injury. Id. In other words, there is a reduced standard of causation between the employer's negligence and the employee's injury. Id. However, the employer must have actual or constructive notice of any unsafe condition and the opportunity to correct said condition. Id. The Court in Perkins found an employer negligent for failing to adequately guard against known risks of injury to its seamen.

Under the Jones Act, a vessel owner will be deemed negligent if it fails to exercise reasonable care to maintain a reasonably safe place in which to work, reasonably safe conditions in which to work, or if it fails to provide the plaintiff with reasonably safe and adequate tools and equipment. Nolan v. Greene, 383 F.2d 814 (6th Cir. 1967); Ceja v. Mike Hooks, Inc., 690 F.2d 1191, 1193 (5th Cir. 1982); Yehia v. Rouge Steel Corporation, 898 F.3d 1178, 1184 (6th Cir. 1990).

In Rannals v. Diamond Jo Casino, 265 Fd.3d 442 (6th Cir. 2001), a case involving a training facility attended by seaman and operated by a third party, the Sixth Circuit clarified the extent of an employer's duty to a seaman. The court held that a seaman's employer has a nondelegable duty to provide a reasonably safe place to work, at least when the workplace is under the control of an agent of the employer.

An owner has a duty to select a competent mast and crew. Anderson v. Great Lakes , 509 F.2d 1119, 1130 (2nd Cir. 1974). A co-worker's operational negligence Dredge & Dock Co. will support a finding of breach of this duty. Ober v. Penrod Drilling Company, 726 F.2d 1035, 1037 (5th Cir. 1984). An employer can also breach its duty of care if supervisory personnel give negligent orders regarding how work should be performed. Reyes v. Delta Dallas Alpha Corp., 199 F.3d 626, 630-31 (2nd Cir. 1999).

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA), 29 U.S.C. § 651 et seq., imposes on a covered employer a duty to provide working conditions that "are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious bodily harm" to the employees, as well as an obligation to comply with safety standards promulgated by the Secretary of Labor. 29 U.S.C. § 654 (a)(1). The United States Supreme Court in Chao v.., 534 U.S. 235 (2002), held that with respect to uninspected vessels, Mallard Bay Drilling, Inc OSHA regulations apply if there are no United States Coast Guard regulations that specifically cover the subject matter of the OSHA regulations.

Contributory negligence is not an absolute or complete defense for the employer, but is only considered in the mitigation of damages. Cordle v. Allied Chemical Corp., 309 F.2d 82l, 824 (6th Cir. l962). Also, since comparative negligence principles apply, any negligence on the part of the employee merely reduces the recovery, unless his or her negligence is the sole cause of the injury. Id.; see also Gautreaux v. Scurlock Marine, Inc., 107 F.3d 331, 335. (5th Cir. 1995). No risk that can be reasonably controlled by the employer or the vessel owner is assumed by the seaman. Tolar v. Kinsman Marine Transport Company, 618 F.2d 1193, 1196 (6th Cir. 1980). Absent a showing that there was a safe alternative available, a seaman may not be denied recovery because he or she proceeds in an unsafe area of the ship or uses an unsafe appliance. Yehia v. Rouge Steel Corporation, 898 F.2d 1178, 1184 (6th Cir. 1990). A seaman's failure to request help when confronted with an unseaworthy condition can constitute comparative negligence, but that does not necessarily bar recovery. Merlino v. U.S. Steel Corporation, 52 F.3d 326 (6th Cir. 1995).

The next blog post, in this series, will cover - Jones Act Procedure.

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